A Federal High Court in Abuja has rejected the invitation by the federal government to try in secret, a lecturer at the Kogi State University, Dr. Mohammed Yunus and two others charged with sponsoring the proscribed Boko Haram sect.
Ruling on the application by the federal government, the trial judge, Justice Gabriel Kolawole, held that the court was mindful of the accused persons’ right to fair hearing and the need to protect the identities of witnesses from the public as was the practice in advanced countries where the trial were on terrorism.
According to him, “To balance the conflicting interests of fair trial as prescribed by the constitution and not to unjustly expose ordinary citizens to danger; who have decided to give evidence on behalf of the state; if the court fails to give minimum comfort to witnesses, it will get to a stage where the state will no longer find witnesses.” He further held that in advanced countries of the world,
cases of terrorism have led to a legal regime of protection of witnesses.
However, he said: “I shall not shut down the entire court room, but shall make adequate provisions to shield the identities of the witnesses including security of their families.
“The court will guarantee fair hearing to the accused persons and protection to the witnesses.”
After the ruling, the judge directed that a shield, in the form of a cubicle be placed around the witness box, to prevent the audience in court from seeing the witness. But despite the shield, the defence lawyers and the accused persons could still see anyone in the witness box.
The inability of the cubicle to fully shield the witness from everyone scared the witness, who declined the invitation by the prosecution led by N. B. Jones-Nebo to mount the witness box.
Jones-Nebo told the court that her witness had refused to come out because he was afraid that his identity was not fully shielded.
She said the witness demanded to be allowed to wear mask before he could testify.
The defence team, led by Hassan Liman (SAN), opposed the prosecution’s request that the witness be allowed to wear mask on the ground that such provision was not contained in the judge’s ruling.
When it became obvious that progress was impossible without the witness, the judge advised the prosecution to either appeal his ruling or apply for a variation of his decision.
The federal government had in an application filed by its counsel, Mrs. N.B. Jones Nebo, applied to the court for a secret trial of the accused
persons in order to protect the identity of the witnesses.
The three accused persons; Dr. Mohammed Yunus, Musa Umar and Salami Abdullahi, were arraigned on an eight-count charge bordering on
They were arrested in October, 2013, for allegedly holding various meetings aimed at planning to carry out insurgency across the country and have been remanded in prison custody.
Their applications for bail were also turned down. Relying on Sections 33 and 34 of the Terrorism Prevention Act 2013, as amended, and Section 115 of the Evidence Act, the prosecution had asked the court to conduct the trial in secret.
She argued that the application was also filed pursuant to the provisions of Sections 36 and 203 of the Criminal Procedure Act which necessitated the non-disclosure of identities and names of witnesses.
But, Mr. Hassan Liman (SAN), Mr. James Ocholi (SAN), Mr. Abdul Mohammed, counsel to the first, second and third accused, however, all opposed the prosecution’s application in separate counter-affidavits.
They had prayed the court to dismiss the said application for lacking merit and being incompetent.
The court later adjourned till May 6,7 and 14 2014, for accelerated hearing.
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